Dir. Jarmo Lampela. Finland. 2003. 94mins
A neatly packaged but pretty slender melodrama combining social consciousness and parental guilt, Jarmo Lampela's new picture would have been more comfortable in a family TV slot than in the competition of a film festival. Though it attempts to echo the dry, deadpan approach of Finland's premier filmmaker, Aki Kaurismaki, it lacks both the irony and the compassion that distinguishes work from the director of The Man Without a Past. As Tove Idstrom's script is too thin for a full-length feature film, cinema potential seems somewhat limited, but a future on video is more than possible: unsurprising given Idstrom's extensive work for the small screen.
Eila (Mallinen) is a 39-year-old government cleaner who married and divorced early in life, and had one son, now cared for by his father. Now living with an over-the-hill entertainer, she and her colleagues are one day told that they can either be made redundant - or do the same work for less for a private company. The union launches strike action, but Eila refuses to join in because her now-adult son is about to be released from jail, and feeling guilty for having deserted him before, decides to take him in and help him find work.
The cleaners return to work after the union claims it has struck an acceptable agreement - but after a few days they realise they have been cheated and are fired again. Eila herself is eventually dismissed as well, despite a vague promise by the personnel manager, a seeming friend, that if she stayed out of the dispute she might be able to remain. In the meantime, trouble is brewing at home: her son, a violent bore, slaps women around, including his own mother; while her lover expects to come in and be serviced in exchange "for providing the orgasms" as he puts it, but will do nothing around the house save complain about the unwelcome son.
Rejected by friends as a scab, and with no money or prospects, Eila is advised by a lawyer that if she and her colleagues press charges against the state, then they might have a chance of success. After overcoming much resistance, including colleagues who refuse to talk to her, justice is restored and the feature moves towards its happily-ever-after conclusion.
The first scene, showing the cleaning women speaking to a video camera and telling the story from their point of view, betrays Lampela's roots as a documentary film-maker, promising more than the rest delivers. Professional but predictable throughout, with characters who are little more than cardboard cut-outs and simplistic resolutions to the drama, the film wraps up all the plots and sub-plots to the satisfaction of the audience. Sari Mallinen offers a sympathetic portrait of a woman who successfully manages to come to terms with her social and family crises, but it is still not quite enough for a full-size cinema screen.
Prod co/int'l sales: Blind Spot Pictures
Prods: Petri Jokiranta, Tero Kaukomaa
Scr: Tove Idstrom
Cinematography: Harri Raty
Ed: Joana Louhivuori
Music: Liisa Akimof
Main cast: Sari Mallinen, Ilkka Koivula, Hannes Suominen, Kristina Halkola, Johanna Kertula, Kari Hietalhti